One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, yet it's still seems such a difficult subject to talk about.
I remember 20 years ago, no one talked about cancer. It was known as the Big C, and whispered in hurried, frightened tones amongst well-meaning folk who just couldn't wrap their heads around it. Now, I see commercials on TV talking about treatment options, recovery centres, and even fashionable clothing that help fund a cure. Why is it that when an illness is visible, we can embrace the patient, but when it is invisible, in the mind, we seem scared to even say the words?
I've recently worked with Time to Change - an anti-stigma programme run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness - to launch a new online short film with tips on 'how to start a conversation about mental health.' Myself and four other Time to Change supporters with experience of mental health problems gave our advice on the best ways of making the conversation easier. There are no hard and fast rules, but for me, one of the most important things is listening, being open minded and non-judgemental.
Due to the many myths that still surround mental health problems starting a conversation about mental health can often feel awkward. I understand the fear of saying the wrong thing, or of trying to be 'helpy', or worst of all, staying silent and hoping it will all sort itself out. However, having experience of a mental problem myself, I know what a big difference those few small words can make, even to have someone interested in my experience. It means the world when people simply ask, "How are you doing?"
When I began my journey with mental health issues eight years ago, I was terrified of my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I saw my illness as a death sentence, something to be feared and found even talking about it to be painful. However, in educating myself as well as those around me, the fear and awkwardness has almost disappeared.
My husband, who met me a number of years after my diagnosis, can now see my 'red flag' moments before I do, and as a team, we're able to keep a handle on my bipolar. And as our son Alex grows up, we will educate him about Mummy's mental health issues in kid-friendly language, so that he never has to be afraid of my illness.
It all comes down to understanding and openness; the more we all understand a mental health problem, or that of a loved one, the easier it becomes to talk about. When ignorance is removed from the equation, I find the fear leaves pretty quickly afterwards.
The latest Time to Change campaign - 'It's time to talk, it's Time to Change' shows just how important talking about mental health is, both for those with mental health problems and those around them. The issue is still such a taboo topic and together we can all play a part in trying to remove this stigma.
I hope you enjoy this video and it will encourage more people out there to start a conversation about mental health!